Sexual Abuse or Harmless Horseplay?

Today the so-called victims of the felony sex abuse in Oregon don't consider themselves victims. "20/20" spoke to McKenzie and Madie, two of the girls who were questioned. It wasn't only the boys slapping butts. McKenzie admitted, "Yeah, I probably did slap a couple butts."

'I Was Really Freaked Out'

Debra J. Markham, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted the boys, also accused the boys of sexual abuse because the police officer wrote that they had dry humped the girls. But the boys and girls both say all the boys did was "party boy," a silly dance popularized by the TV show "Jackass."

"It's just like a really funny dance," says Madie. "All the boys do it … they like bounce up and down and it's really funny because they look really retarded when they do it."

Although the girls said they felt pressured by the officer's questioning, Ryan and Cory were locked up for six days, facing the possibility of 10-year jail sentences and a lifetime as registered sex offenders.

"They pushed us up against the wall. They took all our stuff, took our fingerprints," Cory told me. "They strip searched us and then they put us in our cells."

Ryan, who says he was strip searched six or seven times, told me, "I was really freaked out. I didn't know why I was in here, what I did that was so bad that could get me in here."

It was two days before the parents were allowed to see their children; jail policy, Markham told Cory's lawyer, J. Mark Lawrence, -- no communications until visiting day.

Tuesday, Day 6, the boys were finally released, but banned from school and from seeing many of their friends. The district attorney, who did not want to talk to "20/20" about this, demanded a trial.

The snail's pace of the U.S. legal system made it worse for the boys and their families. Prosecutors dropped the felony charges in May, but the boys still had sexual harassment charges hanging over their heads.

It took half a year before a judge would finally hear a motion to dismiss charges. This kind of hardball prosecution doesn't surprise Jakada Imani, executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which works for change in the juvenile justice system.

'Criminalizing Our Young People'

"There's been a disturbing increase in the trend of arresting children for minor infractions that often would have been taken care of in the principal's office or with a school administrator or by simply calling in the parent for a parent-teacher conference," Imani said. "Our future is our children in the United States. And the fact that we're criminalizing our young people, at younger and younger ages for smaller and smaller infractions has to be deeply troubling for anybody concerned about this country's future."

By the time Cory and Ryan's trial came up in August, all four girls had signed affidavits asking the judge to dismiss all charges against the boys, which he did.

In court the boys still apologized to the girls; not particularly for slapping them on the butt but for what the courts and the media put the girls through.

After the trial, Markham spoke to reporter Susan Goldsmith of The Oregonian. "We had an obligation when it came to our attention to act in a way we felt was appropriate," Markham said. "I would bring felony charges again in appropriate cases."

"She's overusing her powers," said Scott Mashburn. "And that's why she's charging these crazy charges. She's just going to continue to do whatever she wants because she has all the power in the world."

Prosecutors do have lots of power, as do police and school officials. Next time we hear about charges of sex abuse, we should think about that because sometimes what authorities call abuse is just a hug or a playful game.

Watch "How Young Is Too Young" Friday Oct. 12 on "20/20" at an all-new time, 8 p.m. EDT

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